Glaspie: Let the fantasy football games begin

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Last week, while driving through the Park Square roundabout in Pittsfield I noticed a man holding an interesting sign for passing vehicles to see.

He wasn't campaigning for a local politician or expressing the need for world peace — this sign was a form of punishment.

What was his crime? Nothing serious, but for a certain group of sports fans, his transgression would not be something they'd want broadcasted to all of Pittsfield.

This man was guilty of finishing last in his fantasy football league.

Fantasy sports, especially fantasy football, create another way to experience the game. In addition to supporting for your favorite sports team, fantasy sports force participants to root for the on-field performance of individual players, hoping the on-field performance of players on their virtual team can outperform other members of their fantasy league.

What started as a niche way for statistically inclined sports fans to compete against friends has exploded into a full blown phenomenon. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, 57.4 million people played fantasy sports in 2016. That number represents more than a 200 percent increase in fantasy sports participation over the last 10 years. The rise of daily fantasy sites has also aided in the increased popularity of fantasy sports.

For me, fantasy football is a great way to keep in touch with a group of good friends that are dispersed throughout the country. The smack talk in groups chats and on our league Facebook page starts early.

I'm not ashamed to say that months of research take place heading into draft day. From watching potential sleepers play in the third quarter of meaningless preseason games, to devouring as much information on websites and podcasts as I can, fantasy football is more than just a game for me.

Our draft is usually held in the league commissioner's garage, and a dedicated league commissioner is key to any successful league. In addition to providing pizza and beverages for the draft, the commissioner rules over the league, vetting potential new members and deciding if any new rules should be enacted within the league via vote. The league treasurer collects the "entrance fees" and makes sure the league winner receives his or her's "prize" at the end of the season.

As I drove by the man in Park Square, I couldn't relate to his shame (I'm a two-time league champion), but three thoughts popped into my head as I made the left turn onto First Street.

The first thought was: I'm glad that's not me. While it wasn't a particularly hot day, finishing last in your fantasy league is embarrassing enough. The last place finisher in my league must pay to have the winner's name engraved in the championship trophy. For new players, forms of public shame such as tattoos and other shenanigans are also acceptable.

Secondly, I questioned the man's skills as a fantasy owner. Did he foolishly draft a quarterback in the first round? Or was he just unlucky, drafting players such as Danny Woodhead, Keenan Allen and Ameer Abdullah, who all suffered season-ending injuries within the first two weeks of the season.

Lastly, as a continued down First Street, I thought about how I really miss football. Yes, the NFL does a good job of staying relevant year round, from expanding to three days of draft coverage, to free agency, training camps and offseason arrests.

But I miss the feeling of setting your lineup and watching your players dominate. I miss the feeling of watching Julio Jones sky over a defensive back and race to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown. The euphoria felt when your quarterback erupts for a five-touchdown game is only paralleled by the sense of despair when leaving a 200-yard rusher on the bench. The high and lows of fantasy football make Sundays, Monday, Thursdays and sometimes Saturdays appointment viewing for this football fiend.

So do your research. Search for those late-round sleepers, avoid relying too much on players from favorite team and don't end up like that guy in Park Square.

Reach sports writer Akeem Glaspie at 413-496-6252 or @TheAkeemGlaspie.

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